A Coder's Guide To Coffee
As most software and creative professionals know, coffee is an important component in boosting mental acuity and maintaining peak, on-the-job performance. Coffee is not just a useful aid while working though. It's also a damn tasty beverage. To make a really good cup of coffee, all you need is the desire to enjoy a better beverage that's brewed using modern technology. Read on to learn the secrets of good coffee!
First things first, if not prepared correctly coffee can suck and if it's roasted very darkly, it can suck even more.
Mainstream coffee that's produced in industrial quantity is primarily low-quality, comes from high-yield beans, is commonly a highly processed dark roast, and is foisted on largely unknowing consumers nationwide.
Very strong or intense coffee, often associated with dark roasts, doesn't so much have a 'coffee' taste as it has a nutty, carbon, and ash taste. The coffee that is commonly sold in stores is often neither "special" nor properly prepared - it's usually over-roasted to serve as a background for sweet flavorings. A few of the mainstream coffee brands, however, do sell good coffee blends at a higher price. Mostly though, mainstream coffee brands will oftentimes sell you very dark roast whose dead taste is meant to be hidden by milk or extra hot water. This is unfortunately the case most of the time so be cautious.
Nevertheless, coffee can be good - great even - all by itself if you know what to buy. Good coffee doesn't have to be expensive or elaborate to brew. It can be very cheap and easy to make. Don't settle for a cup of crappy coffee; make a cup of the good stuff and see how easy it is to have quality tasting coffee every day.
The quick coffee course
If you follow these three guidelines that require very little effort and time, you will find it tastes better than most brews in specialty coffee shops:
- Get yourself a coffee capsule machine, possibly one that takes large capsules (ie., 6.5gr and more of coffee).
- Select the coffee based on its characteristics (ie., body, sweetness, acidity, etc.). The brand alone is not a good indicator of quality.
- Brew it correctly using fresh water and do not over-extract (extract only up to 40-45ml from a single shot pod).
The first two guidelines strike at the nemesis of good coffee - technology and raw material.
While most coffee is packed in a controlled environment using state of the art technology, it can only stay fresh for about 2 years if unopened. If opened, the beans begin to go stale in just under two weeks. Conversely, ground coffee starts to go stale in just a few hours because of the immense surface area that's exposed to air as a result of the grinding.
Properly packaged single serve pods are the best and oftentimes the only option for a consistent good brew. It requires little effort and comes at a fraction of the price you'd pay at a coffee house. The technology used to preserve coffee has come a long way. While many coffee connoisseurs will argue that fresh coffee is always better, they sometimes don't take into account that making good coffee is like art in that many things can go wrong when you grind and brew your own coffee. It is simply not practical to adjust your grinder, tamping, and dosage for every new batch of coffee.
Get an inexpensive coffee pod machine. They're widely available from different brands and use different types of capsules. They are perfect for making a good espresso in very little time. It allows you to brew a good cup of coffee while also getting on with your day quickly. Coffee pods have been the most revolutionary invention in the coffee world over the past few decades and are likely here to stay at least a little while longer.
If you're willing to spend slightly more, you can get an ESE machine which uses biodegradable paper pods. If you want to buy a better machine, that's fine, but don't think you have to spend a lot of money to enjoy good coffee.
When it comes to pods and capsules, the only reliable way to get good coffee is to check that the coffee roast is not too dark and the blend is made of coffee without additives or flavouring. On a side note, while flavoured drinks are great and tasty, they are also a completely different type of product altogether. Capsules are not simply containers of ground coffee. The technology used is as important in achieving a good cup of coffee as is the quality of the coffee beans. Good capsules, regardless of if they are alternative or not, are engineered to deliver a perfect extraction while maintaining the freshness of the coffee.
You can also drink it as espresso if you want a quick shot of caffeine. if you don't like the taste, change the blend or type of coffee. Beans from Africa are very different than beans from South America, Southeast Asia and other places. When you're looking for good coffee, do not stop at a name brand; explore other coffee companies. You'll find there are small roasters that have many years of experience that are also in the market of selling coffee beans in addition to pods and capsules.
When you buy coffee, don't go for the darkest roast you can find. When you do find one you like, store it away from heat and light (but not in the refrigerator). Using capsules is convenience because they are sealed which means the oxygen is removed and will keep the coffee from going stale. Remember though to keep your machine clean and to throw away any used pod as soon as you're done with it.
The third guideline addresses another common flavor-denial attack: Brewing temperature and over-extraction. Most coffee machines brew at the optimal espresso temperature for proper flavour extraction. Some of the Nespresso machines have been reported to have lowered brewing temperatures which have resulted in a warm-to-hot cup of coffee. To have better results, run hot water through the machine (run the machine without capsules in it) this will warm up both the machine and your cup. If you're determined to have a really hot cup from the get go, you might be interested in other machines such as a Lavazza, Caffitaly or any ESE machine as they are not riddled with lowered brewing temperature problems.
What is the right way to brew my espresso?
Turn on your machine, make sure the water is fresh and filtered, and run a quick 30ml of hot water through the machine before brewing your coffee. This simple step will remove the residuals from the previous brew and aid in brewing a perfect espresso shot. The entire process should take less than thirty seconds.
Since the capsules are engineered to have the perfect amount of coffee, roast, blend and grinding, there is no waste and you'll have a consistently good espresso in under thirty seconds. Coffee pods are incredibly efficient by comparison. People tend not to make more than they will actually drink - or at least, intend to drink.
And that is how you make great coffee. If you think that's too much waste for the environment, you can apply your new knowledge to looking for a machine that uses Biodegradable ESE paper pods. Remember not to over-extract and brew them properly using fresh water (most ESE machines are made in Italy and do use proper temperatures, thank goodness).
But oh, there's more!
If you follow the advice above, you will drink great coffee for the rest of your life. For some people, that's enough. For other folks (like me), that's just the beginning. It's the first step towards a fun, inexpensive, and gastronomically rewarding hobby. Even if you don't want to make brewing coffee into a hobby, you do have the opportunity - right now - to give up drinking bad coffee and start drinking the good stuff. Why not seize the day?
If you want to experience the concentrated essence of coffee, you must drink espresso. Good espresso, that is. Unfortunately, practically none of the specialty coffee shops and chains in Australia know how to properly prepare espresso. If you want good espresso, you'll have to make it yourself (or take a trip to Italy).
Making a good espresso from ground coffee can be difficult. Finding the right blend of beans for your equipment, setting the grind, packing, finding the right pressure, temperature, and exposure all takes practice. It can take months of gradual refinement for a "barista" to learn how to make a truly good cup. Even after many years, some are still working on perfecting the perfect cup.
Since making the perfect cup of espresso is a never-ending quest, I can only offer you guidance. The rest is up to you. Here is what I can tell you about looking for a coffee capsule machine that allows you to make a good cup of espresso:
- Nespresso: this is the most popular system in Australia and it has a large range of blends available. Dark roasts are sold cheaper than the light to medium roasts because they are supposedly a better quality coffee. The capsules contain approximately 5 grams per capsule, however, many people argue that the coffee is not hot enough. This system uses proprietary technology.
- Lavazza A Modo Mio: this system was launched in 2007 and is quickly gaining popularity. There is a large range of blends available and the price is in line with other capsules such as Nesrpresso. The major difference though is that A Modo Mio capsule contains about 7.5 grams of coffee versus 5 grams in a Nespresso. Lavazza machines are reported to run hot enough to produce a pleasantly hot espresso.
- Other Lavazza systems include Espresso Point, Espresso Point MAXI and Lavazza BLUE. Both EP MAXI and BLUE use larger capsules, which allow up to 12 or more grams of coffee, and are suitable for long coffee or double epresso. All Lavazzas systems are proprietary.
- Caffitaly: This is another proprietary system that also uses large capsules with up to 10 grams of coffee. These machines produce very hot beverages.
- If you lean more towards an "open source" system, then an ESE system is the right one for you. All specifications related to an ESE system are publicly available. There are also no patents pending for the paper pods system that was developed by Illy.
- It is also a good idea in general to try different type of coffee from different companies. I have learned most of what I know about coffee and espresso by testing any type of coffee I could find.
Brew well and drink well, my friends
Although coffee is commonly considered a utility beverage, it is an amazing drink when it's well prepared. Given its ubiquity in software and creative circles, it's likely that you will be drinking a lot of it. So why not prepare it as it was meant to be? Why not enjoy a cup of truly good coffee? And if you decide to try espresso without sugar, you will enter a whole new world of flavor and nuance. The rewards are worth the effort.
Whatever coffee you choose to drink, please do not let mainstream coffee brands fool you into believing that bad coffee is all there is. Good coffee is out there, you just have to find it.
If you want to dig a bit deeper about technology and share your experience about espresso, ristretto, crema, and dark roast vs. light roast, please join the coversation in the comment section below.